The last two years, I’ve done a post about detailing which eligible Major Leaguer’s I’d vote for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve started and stopped my post for this next election several times. The problem I’ve had is that there are a couple of no-doubt, slam dunks (Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza), a couple of “Should Be In, But Steroids” (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire), and a handful of “In My Heart, I Want To Vote For You, But…” guys (Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez).
Randy Johnson—If he isn’t on every single ballot that’s returned, then the Baseball Writers Association of America should be blown up. 5 Cy Young awards, 303 wins, and the 2nd most strikeouts in MLB history should be enough. Back in 2013, I wrote about the 10 best players I’ve ever seen play in person, and RJ was #2 on that list. And he did all of that without any suspicion of using steroids, but against hitters who did use. Randy’s in.
Barry Bonds—At the end of the 1998 season, Bonds had career numbers of 1918 hits, 1364 runs, 411 home runs, 1216 RBI, 445 stolen bases, 1357 walks, 3 MVPs, 8 All-Star Game appearances, 9 Gold Gloves, and 7 Silver Sluggers. If Bonds had retired after the ’98 season, he’d have been elected. But he didn’t, and with a little bit of help, he went on to finish with these numbers: 762 home runs (most all-time), 2558 walks (most all-time, and 688 of those intentional), 2935 hits, 1996 RBI, 514 stolen bases, 7 MVPs (most all-time), 9 Gold Gloves, 158.1 WAR (3rd best all-time), .444 OBP (4th best all-time), .607 SLG (6th best all-time). Love him or hate him, Barry Bonds should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roger Clemens—Easily one of the best pitchers I’ve seen play (as mentioned here). The guy won seven Cy Young Awards. SEVEN! Oh, and he has 354 wins. Why hasn’t he been elected to the HOF yet? See what I wrote about Bonds. Take in to account that he put up big numbers against an unknown number of hitters who were using PEDs, and there’s no question that Clemens should be in.
Mike Piazza—I struggled with Piazza, but the more I thought about it, the easier it became to give him a vote. The 1993 NL Rookie of the Year, Piazza is probably the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. He finished with a .308 batting average (122nd all-time), a .545 slugging percentage (30th best), .922 OBP (47th) 2,127 hits, 427 homers (47th best), 1,335 RBI (90th), 146 IBB (50th most all-time), and his 65.7 Offensive WAR is good for 72nd best all-time. Sure, he wasn’t known for his defense, but Piazza finished with 10,844 put-outs (8th most all-time), 733 assists (90th most) in 1,630 games as a catcher–only 20 guys have played more games behind the plate than Piazza. Catcher is a demanding position, and Piazza for a long time.
Lee Smith—Closers are a new breed of Hall of Famers. Let’s face it, there aren’t many in the Hall of Fame, and other than Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, there aren’t too many guys who were primarily closers that are sure-fire, slam dunk Hall of Famers. Lee Smith has been on that line for 11 years. First and foremost, he had 478 saves (3rd All-Time), with a 3.03 ERA (175th All-Time), 1251 strike outs, a 1.256 WHiP in 1289.1 innings pitched during 18 seasons. That’s the good. His 71-92 career record tells me that Smith blew a lot of saves, but that’s to be expected of closers at some point in their career, right? Even Hoffman wasn’t automatic the last few years of his career. Lee Smith was also a 7-time All-Star and won the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year Award 3 times (’91-92 NL, ’94 AL). His 8.732 K’s per 9 innings is 15th best All-Time and his 1,022 games pitched are 11th most. So is Lee Smith a Hall of Famer? If you compare him against Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter, I think he is.
Fred McGriff—Other than the ROY and MVP, McGriff has pretty much the same numbers as Bagwell (493 HRs, 1550 RBI, 2490 hits, .284 BA, .509 SLG, and 1305 walks). For some reason, I think the fact that he played for 6 organizations in his 19-year career (Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs, Dodgers) hurts him–don’t ask me why, just seems that way. He also had the misfortune of playing in the late-1980s and through the 90s and the cloud of suspicion is hanging right over him, even though I haven’t heard one thing about McGriff being dirty. I loved the guy (until the Padres traded him to Atlanta in ’93), and would love to see him get a call from the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think it’ll happen.
Jeff Bagwell—I think the fact that he’s still on the ballot is a travesty. Sure, he played during the “Steroid Era,” but I’ve never heard his name mentioned whenever there was talk of PEDs or Balco or any of that crap. All Jeff Bagwell did was win the Rookie of the Year Award in 1991, the MVP in the strike shortened 1994 season, was a 4-time All-Star, 3-time Silver Slugger winner, and won a Gold Glove. He finished his career with a .297 batting average, 449 home runs, 2314 hits, 1529 RBI, .540 slugging, and a .948 OPS. Let’s face it, until some guy named Pujols came along, Bagwell was the best first baseman in the National League.
Craig Biggio—Biggio logged 3,060 hits while being an All-Star at THREE DIFFERENT positions (C, 2B, OF) in his career do, plus 291 homers, and 414 stolen bases. Hell, the 285 times he was hit by a pitch should garner him some consideration. Playing catcher is hard enough on the body (or so I’m told) without having the ball peg you while you’re batting (he led the league in HBP five times and it’s the 2nd most all-time). The guy was just good, and I can’t think of a single organization in baseball that wouldn’t have been better with Craig Biggio.
Tim Raines—Raines is one of those guys that I can’t help but picture in those goofy Montreal Expos uniforms. Hell, he was to the Expos what Biggio was to the Astros in a lot of ways, and he played for 23 years. In those 23 seasons, Raines stole 808 bases, had a career batting average of .294, an OBP of .385, with an OPS of .810. In 1981, he finished 2nd in the NL ROY voting, in the top 20 of the MVP voting, and was an All-Star. All-Time wise, Raines in the top 100 in Games Played (55th), At-Bats (75th), Plate Appearances (59th), Runs Scored (53rd), Hits (77th), Walks (36th), Stolen Bases (5th), Intentional Walks (48th), and had 123 Assists in LF (11th all-time). Call me crazy, that’s pretty effing good.
Now, I have 1 spot left. Who gets it? Mark McGwire and his 583 home runs? What about the 302 games he missed in 1993-1995? (Even with the strike shortened season, he only played in 47 games in ’94.) He never finished higher than 4th in the MVP voting, and when I think of his career, I’m not blown away by his stats like I am with Bonds or Clemens.
In 22 seasons, Gary Sheffield hit 509 homers and finished with a .292 batting average, and averaged 16 stolen bases per season. He probably should have won the 1992 NL MVP, but he finished 3rd, and in 2004, finished 2nd for the AL MVP. Is Sheffield a Hall of Famer? Not in my mind he isn’t.
Here’s my issue: I have 1 spot let and there are four pitchers who are worthy of a vote–Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, and Mike Mussina. Pedro gets the advantage of having won 3 Cy Young awards (and finishing 2nd twice), and it’s hard to ignore a career ERA under 3.00 for a starting pitcher in the Steriods Era. Smoltz’s 213 wins, 154 saves, and 3.33 ERA are good enough for me. Not many pitchers who came up after the ’70’s post those numbers. Mussina won 270 games while pitching his entire career in the AL East (1991-2008). Players he’s similar to? Andy Pettitte, Juan Marichal, Curt Schilling, Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell. Pettitte & Schilling are TBA, but all of those other guys are in. Speaking of Schilling: 216 careers wins, 3.46 ERA. Meh. But 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 Postseason games (all starts). In the World Series? 4-1, 2.06 in 7 starts. All four of them pitched during the Steroids Era, and with the exception of Smoltz, all spent at least 7 seasons in the Al East (Smoltz played in Boston for part of the 2009 season). So tell me this: how do you pick up one of those guys?
Pedro Martinez it is. For the record, his WAR is 17th best all-time for pitchers, his career .687 winning percentage is the 6th best all-time, 10.4 K/9 innings is 3rd best, and he’s 13th all-time with 3,154 strikeouts. Add in the 3 Cy Young awards and 2.93 career ERA over 18 seasons, and he’s got my vote.
Things are going to get really interesting with Ken Griffey Jr & Trevor Hoffman eligible next year. The year after that, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero. In 2018 Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel will be on the ballot, followed by Mariano Rivera in 2019 and Derek Jeter in 2020. As much as I enjoy doing these posts each year, I don’t take it too seriously because my opinion doesn’t count for anything. If I had a vote, I’d probably lose sleep over it.